If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide call the 24-Hour Cuyahoga County Suicide Prevention Hotline operated by Frontline Service, Inc. at 216-623-6888.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month!
Harry’s “Time Out” button in his head has been sending signals so he can ease up on the constant mental stresses causing his anxiety. Yet he overlooks this button and prefers to use the shiny (and deceptive) button called “Distraction.” Harry’s Distraction button has a compelling agenda:
To twist his minds in knots
To repeatedly circulate monkey thoughts
To stay attached to old stories and traumas
To pre-occupy him with the past and future
The combination of old thoughts and pre-occupations allows stress to take a dominant role in Harry’s work and relationships. He can’t figure out how he got here and Harry’s unsure if he can change our thoughts in any impactful way. With the amount of time and effort he lives in monkey mind, Harry’s body and emotions succumb to its unrelenting tempo.
How can Harry make it back to solid ground?
Understanding mental health, mental illness and mental wellness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes mental health as:
as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
If we take a close look at this definition, mental health also includes physical, emotional and spiritual health. Think about it, when we are sick or injured or dealing with chronic illness, we get frustrated, angry, tearful and move through a host of mental attitudes before we finally get to the “feeling better” stage. We might even pray, beg or make promises to a Higher Power in exchange for a healing.
Harry recognizes a few mental patterns that get in the way of his well-being. For starters, he notices the Distraction Button turns on as he’s driving to work. During the day, Harry’s stress level builds in response to the many deadlines, emails and phone calls he encounters. His co-workers come to his office to complain about their workloads. These random and usually long conversations derail his ability to clear the desk.
Evidence of persistent and chronic negativity in our thoughts, feelings and behaviors along with a growing insecurity of how to handle stress may indicate the presence of mental illness/disorder. With fast depleting sources of energy, we feel beat up, ashamed at how we got here and seeking ways to escape mental suffering.
Warning sign of mental confusion are moments of being stuck, desperate, alone and exhausted.
Since his mind has no place to slow down and relax, Harry has reached a point where the anxiety creates cycles of mental unrest, physical agitation and lack of focus. Because of his feelings of overwhelm, it’s getting harder for Harry to problem solve and to maintain daily routines. These symptoms are impacting his relationships as Harry spends more time alone and at home. His parents mention he hasn’t acted like himself lately and are worried about what’s going on in his head.
Harry senses he needs help to figure out what is happening to him. The toll of anxiety weighs heavily on Harry’s mind, body and emotions. He decides to open up to a co-worker and gets these suggestions:
Talk to his medical doctor about his symptoms
Meet with a therapist who can assist Harry with a new mental roadmap
What’s on the other side of mental illness/disorder? It’s mental wellness or the ability to participate in a set of activities to stay mentally fit, build healthy coping strategies and thrive in the world.
Harry chooses to follow through with his co-workers ideas. First he meets with a medical doctor to assess his symptoms and talk about a care plan. Fortunately the medical doctor has ruled out any neurological issues and believes his physical symptoms can be treated under the care of a mental health professional.
Second Harry searched for a therapist on Psychology Today and identified a professional who could help him.
Once Harry learns more about the signs of anxiety, he feels ready to transition out of mental illness and into mental wellness. Harry’s mental regimen includes:
Walking twice a week in the park - alone and with a friend - to elevate his mood and strengthen social connections
Create a happy tribe. Harry’s friends and parents are glad to spend time in his company, praise his efforts and celebrate his recovery from anxiety.
Cut back on fast food and caffeine drinks.
Learn how to use the Time Out button at work to set boundaries, relax his mind and prioritize the workload.
Turn off down devices an hour before bed and unwind with quiet activities like reading or hanging out with his dog.
After several weeks of trial and error, Harry’s breakthrough appeared when noticed his mind didn’t seem to nag at him. Whenever the negative thoughts show up, he jumps into wellness mode and chooses an exercise to shift his mood.
Every day, Harry uses gratitude as a way to feel better about all of the good things happening in his life. He looks forward to his one hour of quiet time at the end of the day. Family and friends comment that he seems happier and content whenever they see him. At a recent appointment, Harry admits to his counselor that he is beginning to like himself again.